Irwin impressing; Stuart makes an impact

HIGHLIGHTS -- Greiss shuts out Avs, Sharks stay perfect

Irwin impressing; Stuart makes an impact
January 27, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Sharks rookie Matt Irwin scored his first NHL goal against Colorado Saturday and gets to face his childhood favorite team the Canucks Sunday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – Matt Irwin stepped out of bed on Sunday, apparently still thinking about the Sharks’ 4-0 over Colorado the day before, when the rookie scored his first NHL goal.

“I woke up this morning and watched the highlight again,” Irwin said of his slap shot past Semyon Varlamov in the second period.

On Sunday against Vancouver, Irwin, a native of Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, will face the team he grew up rooting for in the Canucks. He can still remember being a kid and watching their 1994 team, led by Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden (and Sharks CSN analyst Bret Hedican) reach the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in seven games to the Rangers.

“It’s another one of those moments, it’s right up there with your first NHL game and first NHL point, and goal. And now, playing the team you idolized growing up,” Irwin said. “I was a big Trevor Linden fan growing up, and the ’94 Cup run is in [my] memories. It would be even better tonight to get the win, and kind of stick it to ‘em.”

Irwin is third on the Sharks in ice time per game, skating more than 19 minutes on average. His partner, Dan Boyle, is impressed with the 25-year-old.

“He’s not doing what he needs to do – he’s doing more. He’s not just eating up minutes, he’s playing a big factor in all the wins and all the games. It’s been fun to watch," Boyle said.

Boyle and Irwin have plenty in common, as the two both went undrafted. In fact, that still drives the 36-year-old Boyle.

“I like the undrafted, undersized d-men across the league, I like to see them do well. He’s not undersized, but undrafted. I definitely like to see those guys [do well],” Boyle said.

“You certainly have a chip on your shoulder. Mine is still there, 13 or 14 years later.”

It’s only been four games, but Irwin is showing that he could be here to stay, and the Sharks' coaching staff will have a difficult decision to make when the injured Brent Burns and Jason Demers become available.

Irwin was asked if he now feels like he belongs.

“I think so, but at the same time you don’t want to get complacent,” he said. “You just want to keep going about your business every day, and trying to help the team win and stay consistent and keep playing my game.”

Stuart makes impact felt early

Brad Stuart’s long-awaited return to San Jose is off to a flying start.

The defenseman’s hit of Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog was the key moment in San Jose’s 4-0 win Saturday, and was a good reminder to Sharks fans that the team’s defense is deeper and stronger than last season.

Stuart was glad to have such a major impact already, especially at The Tank.

“Obviously as a new guy, you want to have some sort of positive influence on the team,” Stuart said. “From game one, it was a unique circumstance for all of us, so I wanted to start the season building a solid base and not do anything fancy, then kind of go from there. As you get more comfortable, you can start branching out and try to add some things to your game.

“To be able to do something like that at home is nice. The team responded well and the power play has been clicking for us, so that was huge.”

First big test?

The Sharks may be 4-0-0, but it’s important to note that they’ve beaten three non-playoff teams from a year ago, and a Phoenix club that looks weaker on paper and started its backup goaltender.

The Canucks are different. The Western Conference champs in 2011, Vancouver is expected to once again challenge for the Stanley Cup.

“They’re very, very dangerous,” Joe Thornton said. “We know they’ve had some good success here, so we’ve got to change that this year.”

When it comes to the Canucks, the conversation still begins with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have a combined 10 points in the first four games.

“They’re a pretty dynamic pair to play against,” said Stuart, who has a team-high +6 rating. “It’s always fun to play against players of that quality. It makes it a challenge, and that’s why we play the game, for the challenge.”

Both the Sharks and Canucks are coming off of shutouts. Vancouver blanked Anaheim on Friday, 5-0, behind 30 saves from Cory Schneider, who will start again on Sunday.

Schneider has displaced Roberto Luongo as the starter, in one of the biggest national storylines of the young season.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to be in that locker room to follow all that stuff,” Boyle joked to the Vancouver media.

Lineup check

Antti Niemi (2.33 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) will return to the net for the Sharks, looking for his fourth straight win. Other than that, the San Jose lineup will stay the same.

Former Sharks forward Manny Malhotra, who just welcomed his third son, will not play. The Canucks remain without two key injured players in David Booth and Ryan Kesler.